Dissolved Frontiers: Encountering the Other and the deconstruction of a binary world model in David Lodge's "Nice Work"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2011

21 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Other and self

3. The symbolic division of space according to Lotman
3.1 A geographical division in Nice Work
3.2 A social division in Nice Work
3.3 Male/female power-relations in Nice Work
3.4 Work and private life of Robyn and Victor

4. Crossing boundaries: The 'Shadow Scheme'

5. Discovering similarity: Binary oppositions called into question
5.1 Encountering Otherness: A self-reflexive discovery
5.2. Structure of male dominance called into question
5.3. “Assimilating difference” revisited

6. Conclusion

7. Works Cited

1. Introduction:

In David Lodge's Nice Work, space constitutes the important aspect of structuring the world of Rummidge and its characters. The novel is set up in a twofold structure of space which contains the“colliding worlds”of Industry, represented by Vic Wilcox (MD of Pringle's engineering), and of Academia represented by Dr. Robyn Penrose (English Lecturer at the University of Rummidge)[1]. This division does not only imply a geographical but also a social dimension, expressed by an apparent textual structure promoting at first glance a static division between the superiority of male/industry/economic capital and an inferior counterpart of female/university/ cultural capital[2].

Yet, as Lodge's novels are characterised by the discrepancy between “surface structure” and “deep structure” (cf. Horlacher 465) and as the novel primarily functions on the basis of poststructuralist theory symbolized by the female intrusion of protagonist Robyn Penrose into the male domain of industry, the male-dominant power structure of the surface level gets shaken. Robyn is, on the basis of Lotman's concept of space in Künstlerischer Raum, the heroine of the plot entering the 'unknown' patriarchal world of the Other, and therefore connecting two opposing world concepts, the characters of which reveal to approach each other by the process of familiarization and overcoming prejudices. Beyond this, the clash of two different spheres addresses a second dimension, the discovery of the Other (and at the same time of the self).

In David Lodge's Nice Work, the binary opposition structure of the text is called into question as a result of the intrusion of the symbolic female and poststructuralist character Robyn Penrose into the different male-dominated geographical and social field; so that the discovery of a different sphere of living and the process of familiarization with the Other leads to a critical understanding of male dominance, a reversal of gender roles and, in terms of poststructuralism, to the deconstruction of the male/female dichotomy.

2. Other and self

According to the anthropologist Lévi-Strauss, binary oppositions “constitute the basis of what we call culture” (Bertens 63) within a certain sign system (Bertens 61). In order to structure the world and to create meaning of all that which surrounds us, “our primitive ancestors” (Bertens 62) have used the basic strategy of “categorization”, i.e. creating opposites by drawing on the difference to other signs “in order to situate [oneself] in space” (cf. Corbey vi). The reason for this is that, as Barthes pointed out, “meaning is generated by the difference to other elements”(Bertens 65), and we use, dependent on our own cultural and value system, these oppositions in order to make “a distinction between that which is allowed into the sphere of culture and that which is excluded”(Bertens 65). So we can separate the familiar from the strange, unknown and maybe even threatening (cf. Corbey vii).

Literary texts create a model of the real world and therefore they, too, introduce oppositions in order to set up a structure that generates meaning by difference. Based on the structuralist “dydadic plus/minus model of distinctive features in binary oppositions” (Nöth 118), there are always two uneven sides of the coin that designate a relation of “dominance/submission” (Bertens 66). This means, one term is traditionally considered to be “privileged” (Bertens 129)[3], for instance light versus darkness. This distinction of superiority/inferiority automatically implies, and has so already since Greek and Roman Times (cf. Corbey vii), the general concept of an “ideal type of human values” within a certain society and constitutes hence the measure point for the exclusion of everything that is strange, unknown and threatening within the framework of society (Corbey vii). Moreover, this refers to the “personal level of experience“ too, in which it is the “subjective self which constructs everything alien to it as 'other'” (cf. Hegel quoted in Makaryk 620).

Despite of the fact that the Other can, by all means, be perceived in an “appreciative mode”[4] (Corbey vii) which might contribute to “a reflexive process” of the Self (xi)[5], in most cases, it is referred to as something disturbing, even threatening to the dominant code of authority and/or the individual, subjective mode of living. Foucault has already shown in his studies[6] about madness and society, that discrepancies to the codes and norms of society have been considered as abnormal and threatening to the personal world order and therefore may result into social exclusion of Otherness (cf. Kleiner 43ff). As a result, the most common “mode of encountering the Other is a defensive one”(Corbey vii), even more it is desired to prevent any encounter of the Other at all. The separation of self/Other therefore usually manifests itself in a prudent way of separation of the domains of living[7], i.e. separation of space, as space functions as the stabilizer of the social order (cf. Bourdieu 84). However, as spatial separation even reinforces the prevention of an encounter between self and Other; it also “reinforces the unfamiliarity of the unfamiliars” (Bauman 147). For every actor has only one particular place in space, so that an encounter of two actors that occupy a distant place in social space is impossible (cf. Bourdieu, 84).

3. The symbolic division of space according to Lotman

With regard to structuralist principles, space functions as a stabilizer and as the primary mode of organization in a literary text. According to Lotman (538), a literary text is usually constructed along principles of binary semantic oppositions which are realised in a twofold, clearly separated structure of space. Originally referring to antique plays, the spatial separation usually divided the living from the dead (cf. Lotman 539) and thus implies a vertical[8] value system of binary oppositions. However, in a more modern sense, it is usually a separation of two different ideological, structural world spheres or simply nations on the same horizontal level[9]. In between these two colliding worlds, there is a “räumliche Trennlinie” (Lotman 539) which cannot be transgressed by anyone but by the hero of the play or the novel. Therefore the act of transgression is of primary importance for the meaning of the plot.

3.1 A geographical division in Nice Work

In David Lodge's Nice Work, 'difference' is the all over important concept and provides “the fundamental way of understanding” the novel (Burton 238). The reader encounters a twofold division of space (industry versus academia)[10] upheld by contrasting ideologies, values and lifestyle concepts of the two settings and first and foremost represented by the incarnation (cf. Cachin 125) of the associated life modes by the two protagonists Robyn Penrose and Victor Wilcox. At the beginning, both worlds are clearly separated from each other on the geographical map of Rummidge. Here we encounter also the insurmountable, 'classificatory frontier' between industry and university. Victor has never in his life entered the University complex, as “the University and all it stood for was in shadow- alien, inscrutable, vaguely threatening”[11] (NW 216) and inhabited by “a very different social species from [him]” (NW 41). Nor has Robyn, despite being an expert on the industrial novel, seen “the dark side of Rummidge, unknown to those who basked in the light of culture and learning at the University” (NW 216). Robyn's initial question when she wonders about the missing “chimneys” of the factory, shows her unfamiliarity with the setting and even reveals her naivety concerning her imagination of a factory (cf. NW 103). She has neither seen a real factory from inside nor has she been prepared “for the shock of the foundry” (NW 127) and its hellish appearance (cf. NW 128ff)[12].

Another aspect of this separation of space consists of - from the character's point of view - the prejudices and even the hostility against '(each) Other'. For Victor, University means “a small city state, an academic Vatican from which he keeps distance” (NW29) and the annoyance as “a source of traffic jam” in the morning (NW 28). For Robyn, the factory is traditionally a phallocentric domain of “male sexuality of a dominating and destructive kind”( NW 78): Industry is therefore “the Other, the alien, the male world of work, in which [women] had [and still have] no place” (NW 78). The reason for the prejudices of the two characters against each other is therefore on the one hand the geographical separation that makes an encounter with the other side impossible, but on the other hand, it is also the characters' different dispositions and lifestyles that only create meaning within the respective geographical district.

3.2. A social division in Nice Work

The division between the two protagonists/areas goes along with Bordieu's theory of “sozialer Raum” (social space), and places Robyn and Vic in a “double opposition” (Cachin 124) of geographical and social space. Both characters possess a significantly high “Gesamtvolumen von Kapital” (Bourdieu 358), i.e. economic and cultural capital, so that they find themselves on the same vertical level of social space. In this context Wennö (22) argues that “[d]espite the difference in the line of production ('goods' as opposed to 'meaning') it is pointed out in the text [ through Robyn's perception] that there is a structural resemblance in being a managing director and a teacher.”[13] Moreover, they constitute for example a contrast to the working people in Vic's company.


[1] For the division between “Industry” and “Academia” see Wennö 19.

[2] For “economic” and “cultural capital” see Bourdieu 358/9 or chapter 3.2 of this work.

[3] This is “what Derrida denounced as the 'metaphysical pathos' of setting up axiological polarities while subordinating one of their pole to the other” (Nöth 119) and will be further considered under this aspect in chapter 5.2 and 5.3. of this work.

[4] See chapter 5.1 of this work for a positive understanding of Otherness.

[5] “Reflexive process”, term used by Hegel: “Geist gradually apprehends itself and reality as it gains insight into itself and the world. The resulting system is one of increasing expansion and incorporation, assimilating or at least harmonizing all otherness in terms of expanding identity” (Corbey xi).

[6] Refers to Foucault's: Folies et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique (1961).

[7] Simmel argues that space is not a pre-existing category (“vorgesellschaftlichte Kategorie”), but that it only manifests itself socially (cf. Simmel 63) as a sociological fact (“soziologische Tatsache”) producing itself in space (cf. Simmel 69).

[8] By 'vertical' I simply refer to the separation of space in in terms of 'above' and 'below' (different levels), but not with regard to value.

[9] By 'horizontal' I refer to the same vertical level.

[10] Cf. Wennö 19

[11] This evaluation is, however, presented to the reader through the perspective of Robyn.

[12] Here Robyn's transgression of boundaries into the foundry associated with hell, can be related to the original binary world/underworld distinction of Lotman (cf. 539).

[13] ”[I]t did strike Robyn sometimes that Vic Wilcox stood to his subordinates in the relation of teacher to pupils” (NW 219).

Excerpt out of 21 pages


Dissolved Frontiers: Encountering the Other and the deconstruction of a binary world model in David Lodge's "Nice Work"
University of Kassel  (Institut für anglistische Literaturwissenschaft)
Gender at Work
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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David Lodge, Nice Work, Structuralism, Deconstruction, Male, Female, Binary Opposition, Lotman, space, structure, Otherness, geographical, social, discovery, difference, frontier, transgression, heroine, subject, separation, academia, industry, stereotypes
Quote paper
Stefanie Grenzebach (Author), 2011, Dissolved Frontiers: Encountering the Other and the deconstruction of a binary world model in David Lodge's "Nice Work", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/177702


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